Em Cunningham, founder of Hushpuppy Designs, is an emerging new artist in Waterloo Region, primarily focusing on digital art. Cunningham has honed her passion for tattoo culture as an inspiration for both original pieces and commission work.
In 2018, Cunningham began selling her prints, however, Hushpuppy Designs officially launched as a business in 2019, but Cunningham began selling her prints in 2018.
Drawing and art were Cunningham’s passions as a child, but due to the competitive nature of the industry, she decided not to go to art school and pursue art as a personal hobby instead.
“Later in my life, I had started drawing again. It was my medium to get all my thoughts out. I struggled with my mental health at the time, so I was drawing a lot,” Cunningham said.
For Cunningham, her rapid increase in following throughout the last few years has been positively overwhelming.
“I think when you start something you only hope people will like it. Whether it’s music or drawing or writing a story; you always hope someone is going to like it but you never really fully think they will,” Cunningham said.
Hushpuppy Designs really began gaining popularity as a business when Cunningham started drawing portraits of people’s pets.
“My business started out with pet drawings, which is not something I ever thought I’d be doing. When I gained momentum with that … I was able to start doing my own designs and selling my prints that way.”
As Hushpuppy Designs continued to grow, Cunningham was able to shift from mostly commission work to creating more of her own unique work to showcase.
“People really responded well to my own drawings I think. I really try to make art that connects to people, and I think that has translated well,” Cunningham said.
“Art is such a good way for people to express themselves. If I can help one person with one piece of art feel something, then I think I’ve done my job pretty well.”
Moving forward, Cunningham hopes to continue incorporating more local collaborations into her business.
“I’ve worked with a lot of local vendors and markets … I think that community over competition is where I’m going.”
In the past, Cunningham has also worked to raise funds through art for local non-profits and organizations. A portion of Hushpuppy Designs’ sales go to various organizations such as The African Carribean and Black (ACB) Network of Waterloo Region. She’s also supported causes like International Women’s Day.
“That’s something I’m pretty passionate about.”
Similarly, Cunningham’s niche work with pet portraits led to collaborations with dog shelters.
“I feel so fortunate to live in KW where we do have such a good sense of community, especially in the small maker community,” Cunningham said.
“You always want to do something that’s going to impact anybody, but if you can impact the whole community that’s massive.”